Making it up as we go

IMG_7057Margaret turned two last week. I spent a long time working on her cake, because it was the last time I would ever make a two-year-old birthday cake for one of my children.

Perhaps as a weird consequence of the dramatic events of Margaret’s birth, which included a lot of life changes that I didn’t get a chance to think through and prepare for, I have a habit of rolling events like this around, taking hyper-notice, really marveling at every detail. You just don’t know when it will be your last chance.

But as it turned out, this was not the last time I made a cake for a two-year-old after all. Actually that moment happened when I wasn’t noticing, back when Eliza turned two. Instead of being my last hurrah, Margaret’s bunny cake met with a cataclysmic tragedy and ended up as a sad mess of over-rolled fondant and broken cake pieces in the trash can.

As I drove to the grocery store to get an overpriced, under-decorated facsimile, annoyed and frustrated, I catalogued all of the things I could have been doing other than spending hours making a cake that didn’t even turn out: doing client work, writing a blog newsletter, sorting the five bags of whatnot in my closet that I really need to take to Goodwill…

You see, in this fifth time through having a two-year-old, I have the unique (for me) circumstance of having a life and schedule that do not work, even on paper. Usually, by the time the baby is two, the wheels are back on and I’ve MacGuyvered a way to fit everything all in. This time? Nope. I’ve tried. I’ve tracked my time. I’ve made schedules and ideal day lists and cut and cut and cut, but no. The stuff I want to do does not all fit at once.

So there’s never a “typical” week. I surge in one area, then another. One week, you’d think I’m working too much. Another, that I’m a slave to my homeschool. You might think I never exercise, or that I exercise so much I ought to be in the Olympics by now. Sometimes I’m learning French. Sometimes I’m barely writing in English. There are even weeks when I’m getting enough sleep (“Really?” my husband asks, “When are those weeks?”)

I’ll own it: this is not balance. Everyone has advice. I don’t fit into any box, but surely I could fit in a box if I would just focus on my business and work more. Or stop working entirely and write a novel instead. Or whatever. I get it from books, too. Jay Papasan would say that going off in so many different directions is a recipe for not achieving anything.

But I am coming around to being at peace with this too-much-but-not-enough life. The fact is, I’m not ok with clearing the decks of all but One Thing. I don’t match up with any given single role, but maybe that’s not a problem. Maybe that’s  a sign that I really am in the right lane. It’s not the same lane anyone else is in, and it’s not really a position from which I can come up with a bunch of universally applicable top-ten-ways-to-rock-it articles. But this is my calling, and I’m living my life, not someone else’s.

I like how Hope Jahren puts this, in her unexpectedly excellent and thoroughly fascinating literary/science memoir, Lab GirlI’ve never been personally interested in paleo-botany, but I love reading about other people who are passionate about their work, and who so clearly love their unusual and one-of-a-kind lives. I highly recommend the book in its entirety, but this part resonated with me, particularly.

I have been told that I am intelligent, and I have been told that I am simple-minded. I have been told that I am trying to do too much, and I have been told that what I have done amounts to very little…I have been admonished for being too feminine and I have been distrusted for being too masculine. I have been warned that I am far too sensitive and I have been accused of being heartlessly callous. But I was told all of these things by people who can’t understand the present or see the future any better than I can. Such recurrent pronouncements have forced me to accept that because I am a female scientist, nobody knows what the hell I am, and it has given me the delicious freedom to make it up as I go along.

I spent too much of my 20s and 30s worrying whether I was living up to everyone’s expectations and all the right cultural dictates, if I was making good on my education, if I was on the right path.

IMG_7062Now, miraculously enough, I have this fifth go-round with a two-year-old, and I’m just making it up as I go along. Work piles up, my kids can’t read Greek, and I sometimes buy the cheap soft bread at the store instead of the sprouted kind. But I take these one-off moments and savor them. I obey the toddler lisp to “Sing a SONG!” and stop to listen when the preschooler pleads, “And also, Mama, and ALSO…” I hug the moody pre-teens and tell them cautionary tales, and I am pleasantly surprised every day when my husband arrives home safe and sound. And yes, I also turn the kids over to the babysitter and write websites and marketing strategies. I go to writer’s group or book club. And sometimes I sit on the couch with a book while the melee careens all around me.

It’s all too much, it’s never enough, and it’s no one’s idea of a good time but mine. We have a two-year-old again, and for the last time ever. It’s a rainy day, there is oatmeal in Eliza’s hair, and the big kids are running around like headless chickens, having forgotten to do their theory assignments for piano lessons. I look at this never-to-be-repeated moment and notice each detail, and I say with the PsalmistThe Lord has done this; it is marvelous in my eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.

Happy birthday, Margaret. I’m sorry about how the cake turned out, but you were worth the effort!

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Memorable Mottos and Words of the Year

img_6455As I read, I often latch on to a phrase that sticks with me and comes to stand for a trait, habit, or aspiration that I want to remember. I keep these in little notes on my desk and taped to my mirror and on the wall in my office. Last year, I tied my goals to them.

Some people call these mottos (Mystie has good ones for her kids, and Heather has beautifully calligraphed selections for her family), others call them rules to live by (such as Gretchen Rubin’s Personal Commandments). I suppose mine are a little of both. And, yeah, mine are a little weirder than what the links include, but at least they are memorable.

This year, I again tied my goals to my mottos (different goals, but in the same categories of aspiration) and I also selected one for my phrase of the year. Thanks to the idea from Mystie and Heather (links above) I am also applying the mottos to my kids, and plan to develop kid-type applications for all of the mottos over the course of the year.

Love is the horse.

You may recognize this year’s motto from the weekly newsletter–it’s taken from a quote by George Vaillant: “But who could have foreseen…that he would die a happy, giving, and beloved man? Only those who understand that happiness is only the cart; love is the horse.”

My natural bent is to prioritize efficiency and productivity. This, I’ve slowly and painfully come to realize, makes relationships…a challenge. But since a fair part of my life’s work is parenting and educating five children, I need to find ways to work to my strengths AND grow in my weaknesses.

When I read the Vaillant quote this fall in The Sweet Spot, I started seeing all of the ways that I push on problems to solve them with speed and efficiency rather than pausing to apply love and grace.  And often my way winds up exacerbating the issue or making it take even longer to solve. What if, I asked myself, love is the horse that could pull all of these things forward better than I can push them?

I need to learn this now. My kids do, too. Whatever seems important in the moment–getting something done, getting out the door, solving a dispute, cleaning up a mess–an attitude of love will probably get better results than a hasty, sharp hustle. And by “probably” I think I mean “definitely.” When I’m 80, my relationships will matter. Whether or not we got to the Post Office before it closed will not.

In case you wondered, here are my other mottos. Bonus points if you can remember the book each one came from!

  • Love is the horse.
  • Be the Band-Aid.
  • Ride Icelandic ponies.
  • Throw candy.
  • Don’t hug the cactus.
  • Fence the table (for the kids, who are Wingfeather fans, this one became, “Fence the Spookies.” Ask Sarah for her rendition. It’s priceless.)
  • Light a candle.
  • Bring your basket.
  • Sharpen the sword.

Do you do mottos or words of the year? What did you choose for 2017?

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“Ride Icelandic ponies”

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I love this quote from Brigid Schulte’s great book Overwhelmed. I have it on my desk as a reminder to be present in the moment. Whatever I’m doing, I should really DO that thing. If I’m riding Icelandic ponies, I should RIDE ICELANDIC PONIES and let the rest go.

You can read more about Overwhelmed in my longer review from last summer.

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On reading with my grandmother

IMG_5928I’m trying to recall the first book my grandmother offered to discuss with me. It may have been The Little Colonel, or it might have been Freckles. I’m almost certain Christy came later, but the order doesn’t really matter. In any case, she would sometimes recommend a book to me, and tell me we could talk about it once I was done.

I don’t remember the details of the initial conversations, but we did continue to trade books off and on when I would visit. Once I got to be an adult, I would mail Grandmama a copy of a book once or twice a year, and she would send letters suggesting other titles I might like. I still remember the phone call when we discussed The Help. We talked for nearly two hours about the maids that had had an impact on her life in one way or another.

IMG_5929That was about the time Alzheimer’s was taking hold of Grandmama and walking her away from us slowly so I hardly realized it. We discussed a couple of other books after that, but soon it seemed she wasn’t really able to read anymore, or not all the way through a book.

It was harder to talk on visits, once we didn’t have shared reading. And once she stopped always knowing who I was exactly. At my cousin’s wedding two years ago she saw me and said, “Now, who are you?” My aunt reminded her that I’m Little Catherine. I’m always Little Catherine in family gatherings, no matter how old I get.

My grandmother looked at me and smiled so brightly at that, and said, “Well, you turned out beautifully!” Like it was such a happy surprise to see me all polished up.

IMG_5980On the last good visit we had, about a year ago, we looked at photo albums together. She didn’t know who I was, but she remembered stories from the pictures. It was so sweet to see pictures of her when she was young and happy. And to read notes from her friends during World War II when they were so brave and idealistic and certain that their friends and brothers were dying for a great cause.

We bring all of that to what we read, you know? Who we are and where we’re from and what shaped us. I wish that I had really known my grandmother as an adult, before she got sick. I’d love to talk to her about what it was like to have four daughters and one son back then (the same family mix I have now), or how her life changed her perspectives on what she read. In my memory she’s a pretty complex person–fun and vivacious but also a person of…shall we say…strong will. There are pros and cons to that inheritance.

IMG_5925Even though I didn’t get to be friends with her as an adult–maybe that’s never how generational ties work–I’m so glad that we read books together. I wish we had done that more. A big reason I keep writing book reviews is in hopes that my kids (and maybe grandchildren, down the line!) will someday know me a little better, or have some insight into who I am as a person, not just as Mama.

My grandmother died this week, at 93 years old. Even though I feel like I’ve already been missing her for years now, it’s still hard to know I won’t see her again when I drive through the mountains.

So I think I will go home and pile the kids on the couch and introduce them to some of those old favorite books. And I will tell them how I read those stories with my grandmother, who was complicated, but pretty wonderful.

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The Bookmarked Life #15

2The Bookmarked Life is my take on catch-all posts–a record to help me remember this season of life.

Right now I’m:

…Considering

I’m thinking about seasons and rhythms and the original purpose of the liturgical calendar. How might we do Advent and Easter and our school terms differently to renew focus and reduce the way holidays tend to breed frenzy? I like the idea of longer seasons and a contemplative approach to the year. We have to be careful not to get caught up in meaningless rituals, but in our milieu I think maybe there is more danger in meaningless seasons if you hew to the culture than if you follow some version of a church calendar. This is tied up in more thinking and reading about liturgy and habits and may wind up shifting how I schedule the next school year.

…Furnishing My Mind

IMG_5642Margaret was baptized in early May and we celebrated by having a picture that actually included all of us. It turns out that it’s really, really difficult to squeeze a family of seven onto a loveseat.

Related to the loveseat: people often ask why on earth I have white couches when I have so many kids. The truth is, these couches were super cheap at Ikea and the slipcovers are fully removable and washable. They hold up really well–I did not stain treat them and I only wash them 2-3 times a year, sometimes tossing the seat cushions in more frequently. We use the couches all day long and they do sometimes get a little grubby, but nothing a soak in Oxiclean can’t fix. IMG_5558Overall, I feel like they make me happy and are much easier to maintain than a couch you can’t wash.

My parents came to visit for the week of Eliza’s third birthday and Margaret’s baptism, and we had a nice visit as well as a mini-break from school.

IMG_5791Jack turned nine at the end of May and had a “Lego Inventor” party. It was a madhouse but he seemed to enjoy it. He made the cake topper himself, and it was nice to just go with it and not try to do some fantastical thing with fondant. Chocolate cake with lots of chocolate frosting (the Hershey’s recipe is easy and way, way better than any store-bought version) is good regardless.

Jack is very creative, loves to read, and is super intense about everything he does. Parenting him can be a wild ride, but he’s interesting and fun and very affectionate.

 

…Living the Good Life

IMG_5671We joined the Children’s Museum and Zoo this spring and have enjoyed frequent trips to both as I attempt to justify the cost with lower cost-per-visit averages.  🙂 So far we’ve done the museum nine times and the zoo five times. As you can see in the picture, the zoo has a cool exhibit going right now of giant animal sculptures made of Legos.

For some reason it often feels easier to take the five kids out than to stay home. It sort of diffuses the noise and energy! We’ve also been going to more parks and finding interesting new parts of the city to explore (that is a nice way of saying, “Mama often gets lost but then enjoys the scenery.”)

…Teaching

We finished our required 180 days of instruction last week, but don’t tell the kids since we will still be doing school through the rest of June (after a break this week for VBS). It works better for us to take July off and then have more flexibilty throughout the year for term breaks rather than having one long summer break. To the surprise of no one, I have changed some things up this semester, so I’ll do an end-of-year wrap-up later in June.

…Boosting Creativity

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I think it’s so great to be creative in different ways.  Somehow being creative in a totally different medium can help with creativity in my usual tracks.  A couple of times lately a friend of mine has hosted a painting party–a local artist comes to her house and we all learn some techniques and paint a small picture. This one is a sprig of balsam fir.  I really like the way the colors in the background turned out.

When I was reading The Irrational Season, I was struck by Madeleine L’Engle’s schedule–she always made time for a walk outdoors, an hour of study and reading, and an hour of practicing piano in addition to writing and caring for her family and whatever else. She felt that the outdoor exercise, study, and piano were part of her creative process, and she was unabashed at saying that was what she needed for her creative life. I was inspired to pick up some of my old piano music and have been tackling Mozart’s Fantasy in D Minor.

…Building Fitness

IMG_5771 We are boldly embarking on hikes! I don’t know what it is about having five children that has made me delve into all of the things there are to do around town. Obviously it’s TONS easier to tote five kids to attractions, right? But in any case we have now met up with a friend and her two kids to do two hikes at state parks nearby. Surprisingly, Eliza (age 3) has been able to walk pretty far. And Margaret does well in the baby carrier. The big kids got these nifty water bottle holders (the friends we hike with introduced us–they are far more outdoorsy than we are!) and are allowed to eat granola bars whilst hiking, so they are all in.

I moved my regular workouts to the evening after the kids go to bed, and am now mostly doing my own circuit of heavy (for me anyway!) weights. I got this idea from Crystal, which led me to this free e-book (salesy, but informative), and so far it’s a nice break from routine.

…Seeking Balance

Work (the paid sort anyway) has been lighter this past couple of weeks, and that has been good in its way. It’s funny how the older kids, while not requiring the same hands-on vigilance as the littles, seem to be in phases that require more time and emotional energy right now, so it has been good to slow down and be able to focus on those needs lately. I’ve been doing more personal writing too, which is restorative and fun. I still have no idea how to work the schedule to include paid work, personal writing, study time, school, and intentional parenting all together. But if I look at things from a weekly or monthly perspective, it does all fit in.

…Listening To

The kids and I are listening to The Chronicles of Narnia books on audio (unabridged, not dramatized) in the car–what a great series to listen to one after the other! This is perfect for summer car trips or just for going around town. Highly recommended!

…Keeping In Mind

“May you treasure wisely this jeweled, gilded time, and cherish each day as an extra grace.” –Andrew Greeley

What are you bookmarking this week?

 

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A birthday tea party

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Me: What will you have for your birthday cake this year, Eliza?

Eliza: A purple cake! With purple teacups and purple flowers on them!

Me: So will it be a tea party?

Eliza: No, it will be an EATING PARTY!DSC_0229

Eliza turned three yesterday so we went all out with a party featuring tea AND eating.  🙂 We had homemade scones, cookies, vegetables, fruit, cucumber sandwiches, and cake. Plus tea with lots of cream and sugar. And purple tulips in a teapot.

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This year has been one of re-examining life and not just saying “these are my priorities” while doing lots of other things too. I am not perfect at this, or even close to it. But when I think about Eliza’s birthday tea, I’m glad I’ve cut things–even neutral or good things–to give me enough margin for just living real life together. I’m reading some good things about this lately–home atmosphere and prioritizing relationships and making room for what’s important and the philosophy of making wise choices. I’m also getting inspiration for living deliberately and authentically from Upstream Field Guide (forget the rest, I literally bought this just for the UFG).DSC_0234Eliza at three is very funny, determined, and conscientious. She dances wildly, loves books, and thinks she can write her name in cursive (sorry, people who collect the attendance sheets at church each week–those are her long lines of scrolly “e”s).

Eliza: Once I was a baby, but now I’m Eliza.

Me: So we can’t call you “Babe-ums” anymore?

Eliza: Mogget [Margaret] is a tiny Babe-ums. I’m a big Babe-ums. Because I’m a big girl. I’m THREE.

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We love you, Eliza!  I hope your third year is full of big smiles and great books and lots and lots of tea parties.

 

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Snapshot: February 2016

I recently noticed a comment on last fall’s snapshot post, which reminded me that I haven’t updated it, in spite of having made some good changes since then that might be helpful for or of interest to others.

Game Changer 1: A Checklist For ME

IMG_4992I don’t know why it took me so long to think of this, but when I saw Misty’s post on her checklist, I shamelessly grabbed the idea and tweaked it to fit our needs. The result? Pure gold. Here is why this works for me:

  • Everything is on one page. This is an entire week of school, for all of the kids, on one page.  It’s a daily to do list and a record keeping tool in one. Because I have it color-coded by child, it’s easy to see at a glance who still needs to get stuff done so I don’t have to scramble to figure out if someone should be playing Legos or actually still needs to finish math.
  • I pre-made decisions. To fit everything on one page, I really thought about what I need to do with each child. In some cases, that meant adding some things, and in others it meant getting real about what I could actually accomplish. I don’t have to reinvent this wheel every week. I just change the dates, change the books we’ll be reading together for history and literature, update dictionary/vocab words, change independent reading, and I’m done. Ten minutes, tops.
  • It keeps me accountable. I love checklists. Seeing something on my clipboard helps me to follow through with intentions. I am doing much better checking people’s independent math work, actually doing Latin every day, and remembering what we do on which day.

Like Misty, I keep my checklist on a clipboard, which also contains our memory work, map work, hymns, and review pieces for the week. I use sticky notes to keep track of where I am. No more hunting for a poem or looking up passages on my phone!  It’s all in one spot, and that really works.

Game Changer 2: Preschool First

IMG_4872I have read over and over again to spend time on the littlest people first, but I never could figure out how to do that. It seemed more important to get the big people through their work. However, when I don’t put a space in for tot school, it falls off the agenda way too often. I’m not talking about crazy academics here, just about the sort of solid reading, Mother Goose, alphabet/numbers, Bible stories, and fairy tale time that I used to pour out for my big kids when they were littles.  Eliza (2 1/2) gets a lot of read-aloud time throughout the day, but that often comes during our school reading, family reading time at night, or from siblings reading picture books to her.  Preschool time is 20-30 minutes of one-on-one with me going through the great children’s literature we’ve collected. We do this right after breakfast and Convocation, while the big kids get ready for Inspection and do their piano practicing.

Game Changer 3: Building in Margin

IMG_4983Homeschooling with a baby requires more margin than you might think, but also less than you might fear. I’m pretty adept at handling a baby while also teaching, but I have been a lamentable failure at margin for a long time. No more. Teaching From Rest put this in great perspective for me, although it is something I should have accepted long ago.  Maybe lessons should take a certain amount of time, but homeschooling (and parenting in general) is not about efficiency, much to my chagrin. I think my reluctance to build in margin is why my schedules never worked before.

IMG_4984This semester, I built in margin every step of the way. Lo, and behold, we actually follow this one. It’s more of a flow than a rigid minute-by-minute thing, but if I don’t at least ball park times for our routine, I’m going to try to put too much in it.  Since I built in some margin, this timed version of our schedule is actually what we normally do, give or take a few minutes.  It looks something like this:

7:30 – Put on classical music (whatever composer we’re studying) to call kids down to breakfast.

7:40 – Convocation while kids eat (mostly Biblestudy, prayer, singing, and memory work).

7:55 – Preschool with Eliza while big kids do jobs, get ready for Inspection, and practice piano if they have time.

IMG_49858:20 – Inspection (What is inspected gets done! Everyone has jobs and checklists for this) and get Eliza dressed.

8:30 – Jack’s Teaching Time (one-on-one subjects with me) – other big kids do independent work and/or read to Eliza.

9:20 – Sarah’s Teaching Time (one-on-one subjects with me) – other big kids do independent work and/or read to Eliza.

10:00 – Table Time (this is a rotating list of things we do together like memory work, geography, dictionary/vocab, art, Latin, etc) – I peg this to morning snack to make sure everyone gets protein and that we actually do Table Time.

10:30 – Hannah’s Teaching Time (one-on-one subjects with me) – other big kids do independent work and/or read to Eliza.

11:20 – The Reading (Subjects we do together using read-alouds, like history, literature, art history, poetry, science, etc) – this takes 1-2 hours but we don’t always finish it all at one time in a given day.  It can spill over to meal times, afternoons, after dinner…lots of families do this sort of thing first, but since this is what we love to do most, it’s the one thing I can reliably do in the evenings and know it will still work.

In all, school takes us about 5-6 hours per day. On paper at least! In reality, independent work isn’t always completed efficiently, and often even with margin the times wiggle significantly. Still, we generally follow this plan now and it seems to work pretty well.

Game Changer 4: The Week View

IMG_4940Another great thing about my checklist is how it helps me to see school as a week-long pursuit, not just one day.  Some days we have appointments, or a babysitter coming over, or homeschool co-op.  Sometimes we just have a rough day.  The checklist helps me to see what we have to accomplish for the week, so I can clearly see where we can do more or less on a given day.  We can have a really long Table Time, someone can double up in spelling, or we can finish up subjects at night after dinner.  School doesn’t have to happen between 8 and 3, and flexibility is part of the beauty of the whole thing.

Game Changer 5: Humility

This year has been all about humility. We’ve had crisis after crisis that I did not see coming. Things I thought I had all sewn up (potty training! getting baby to sleep!) after Kids 1-3 fell to pieces on Kids 4 and 5. I do have some systems in place so that we can stay functional, but more and more I am realizing that what I think I have “under control” is not really under my control at all, and what looks like “together” is actually God’s grace more than my competence.  That is simultaneously terrifying and freeing.  So I’m bringing my basket and doing my best and praying a lot more and continuing to learn as I go.

In light of that, please see posts like this for what they are–a snapshot of what is working, for us, for now.  It will almost certainly change, probably soon, and possibly won’t apply to your situation at all.

Anthropology.  It has to go somewhere!

What is working for your family or school life these days?

 

The Bookmarked Life #14

2The Bookmarked Life is my take on catch-all posts–a record to help me remember this season of life.

Right now I’m:

…Considering

We take a lot of things for granted. At least, I do. For example, the fact that most people have uneventful pregnancies and mother and baby live through delivery–this was not always such a given, and I have now repented not being more grateful for the four simple deliveries I had prior to Margaret’s!

…Furnishing My Mind

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As I am restricted from almost everything (other than sitting on the bed or couch and typing!) I’ve had lots of time to enjoy Margaret’s tiny phase. It’s hard to believe she is already one month old today! The big kids love her and–when they haven’t been battling dreadful colds, ear infections, and croup–have enjoyed hanging out with her. So far she is a very solemn baby, and hates to be left alone. It will be interesting to see how she shapes up as she grows!

…Living the Good Life

I downloaded a new Advent Biblestudy from Jenni Keller (having gotten so much out of her studies on James and Colossians). I’m excited to start it once I finish the Savor and Establish study on Philippians that I’m working through now.

IMG_4675One thing I really like about the Advent study is that it includes a short Biblestudy for you to do with your kids too.  Each day has a Scripture reading, a Scripture for writing down in a notebook (starting a good habit!), and a few questions for discussion and understanding.  I think this is going to be a great addition to our December Bible time!

We will also keep up our annual Jesse Tree tradition, and it will be fun to use the story Bible selections with Eliza since I doubt she remembers this from last year..

…Teaching

Being in such an intense recovery phase–and finding out that it’s likely to be a three month process rather than the six weeks I initially thought–makes school a IMG_4724bit of a challenge.  I had planned ahead to take a month or so off, but hadn’t planned on two months!  So we are doing a little bit of school every day, and counting quarter days, half days, etc as it seems good to me.  I have kind of high standards for what constitutes a whole day of school, but my benchmark is NOT hours spent.  Rather, I mark a school day by what learning transpired.  A kid can spend 12 hours dilly dallying over a math lesson (ask me how I know) and that doesn’t count as a full day of school for me.  Or, kids can have a great discussion of history and science and literature readings, do their language arts, math, and spelling quickly with no fuss, and get in a full day in no time flat. Some of us grasp this truth more quickly than others.

…Boosting Creativity

IMG_4732I got each of the big kids an adult coloring book to help give them something productive to do since I can’t get up and regulate fights and whatnot as I usually would.  They are an unqualified success.  The kids don’t usually care for regular coloring books, but the detail and challenge of these books seems to inspire them.  I wish the author had done a few more so I could get others for Christmas presents!

 

 …Seeking Balance

Fortunately, thinking and typing are not on my restricted list, so I’ve been able to keep up with work fairly well while I’m recovering.  I did take two weeks of “maternity leave” while I was in the hospital–out of sheer necessity–but now I’m back to work and grateful that I have work I enjoy and can do flexibly from home!

…Listening To

Since I’m up nursing a lot at night and Margaret is sleeping in our room, I can’t really turn on the light and read a regular book.  Instead, I’ve been listening to audio books and podcasts.  I can’t say I follow every word with bated breath, as often I feel like I’m floating between being awake and asleep, but I like feeling like I’m doing something, rather than just sitting around in the dark. One podcast of note is Tsh Oxenrider’s The Simple Show.  It’s great!

What are you bookmarking this week?

 

Two birth stories and a little growing up to do

10thLong, long ago, on November 4, 2005, I published my first post on this site (although at the time A Spirited Mind was called Catherine Wheels (here’s why) and was hosted on Blogger).  Five years after that I moved the site to WordPress and lost all of the comments, which is really sad because there were some good ones.

Over the past ten years (TEN YEARS!) the blog has shifted from being random musings (early topics included chickens, banjo babies, and the superpowers of dolphins) to a mommy blog, to being primarily about books.  I’ve poured a lot of time into A Spirited Mind over the decade, even though it’s not how I make my living or achieve my impact, and it’s not even read by that many people. Rather, the blog has been a good side outlet, a record of how my thinking has changed by what I read, and a vehicle for connecting with some wonderful readers I would not otherwise know. Ten years in, I’m ok with A Spirited Mind being what it is, and I’m grateful for the kind and thoughtful readers who have sharpened my thinking and kept reading through all the changes.

So, to celebrate the tenth birthday of A Spirited Mind, I went ahead and had another baby (see previous birth stories for Hannah, Jack, Sarah, Eliza), but in a big, dramatic, emergency fireworks fashion completely appropriate for a last hurrah.

At 36 weeks 4 days pregnant, I started having an aching pain in my abdomen that then gave me a weird popping feeling I described to doctors as being like something had broken (badly) inside of my stomach, but not like water breaking. Unbeknownst to me, or to the doctors, I had just ruptured my uterus.  Apparently Margaret’s head, thankfully already down, plugged the hole pretty well and saved my life.  Instead of an immediate hemorrhage, I began bleeding internally and my digestive system started shutting down.  I was in excruciating pain, but wasn’t sure why, and when I called a friend over she called the ambulance because I couldn’t even sit up to ride in the car.

hannah

Over the next couple of days I was in the hospital in incredible pain and subjected to lots of tests, CT scans, MRIs, and so forth.  Because I wasn’t presenting with normal uterine rupture characteristics, everyone just noticed the digestive system problem and a specialist kept admonishing my OB to just put me through more and more preps, which I couldn’t even swallow.  Finally, mercifully, my OB decided to induce me at 37 weeks 1 day.

On Sunday October 25 my OB induced labor and I had an epidural because I was so weak and hadn’t eaten anything in days and they were pretty sure they might have to handle some emergency.  The birth went very fast, I think in under four hours, but when I started pushing I was in agony in spite of the epidural.  I didn’t even know it was possible to feel so much pain, and I’ve had other unmedicated labors.  This was, in hindsight, Margaret disengaging from the rupture and the rupture becoming worse. She was born easily, the doctor announced no rips or tears, but the baby was not breathing and pure white and so the NICU team had her for a while.  I was still in so much pain I felt I couldn’t breathe.  The doctor kept checking for why and suspected cervical damage, so I was taken back to the operating room.

jack

I was awake for the first surgery, which was very strange.  They had music playing, and the anesthesiologist told me most surgeons operate to music.  It was one of those random rock/pop type mixes, whatever had been on when we came crashing in.  My doctor found a tear in my cervix, which she stitched up, and everyone thought maybe that was that.  But I was feeling awful and apparently very pale, and again, unbeknownst to anyone, was bleeding heavily internally from the rupture.

I got back to my room after the first surgery and Margaret had perked up so our doula brought her over to help me try to nurse.  I barely remember this because I felt so horrible.  Someone was supposed to do a post-op check in fifteen minutes but the doctor did one after only a few minutes because I didn’t look good.  Thank goodness she did because I was hemorrhaging seriously.  I wouldn’t have lived to the fifteen minute check.

Things moved fast.  Someone handed the baby to Josh. My OB told him she would try to save my life and pulled a curtain around me so he couldn’t see all the blood.  They ran me to the OR and had a mask on my face before the bed stopped rolling.  I felt oddly peaceful the whole time, although I registered that something serious was happening.

Sarah

While I was unconscious, they found the rupture and all the bleeding.  The backup doctor in the OR happened to be the top expert at hysterectomy, which was fortuitous because they couldn’t save my uterus and it had to come out fast.  They also pulled out all of my intestines to check carefully for damage and did find damage to one kidney.  The other surgeon my OB called in–who turned out to be a Christian and incredibly kind and personable, especially for a surgeon!–checked the rest of the abdominal cavity and worked with my OB to finish the surgery.  During the surgery I stopped breathing, had my lungs collapse, and had to have 80% of my blood volume transfused.  Apparently this was very touch-and-go the entire time and my OB was worried I would die on the table.

But God was gracious and I pulled through eventually and woke up in the ICU.  I was in a lot of pain, but asked that the nurses help me pump so the baby could eat.  Thankfully she only had to have one feeding of formula because my milk came in right away–I’m not sure how great the quality of the milk was after all that trauma and such a low hemoglobin level and no food, but I wanted to nurse and figured I should pump.  They brought Margaret back to me in an isolette so she wouldn’t catch any germs from the ICU but I could see her now and then.  I still had very little idea how much danger I was in and continued to feel very peaceful and hopeful.  That’s odd for me, which is why I mention it. I know a lot of people were praying for me.

Eliza

After a few days I went back to my room in the labor and delivery unit, and had to have two more blood transfusions over the next couple of days, so now all of my blood has been transfused at least once!  We were still pumping for bottle feeding because Margaret dropped nearly 18% of her birth weight, which is not good.  I had been without solid food for a week and had been through a lot of trauma, so maybe that was also a factor.  She was also very jaundiced so wound up on a combination of bilirubin lights and blankets at different times.

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About a week post-delivery, I had a third surgery to try to correct the damage to my kidney/urethra, which was kinked and torn.  I have a stint in place like a scaffold to encourage healing, and in mid-December will find out if further surgery is required.  I’m praying not, and would appreciate your prayers too!

The pain was terrible, and I went over a week without reading or writing a THING (this is how you know I was really in a bad way – I haven’t missed that much reading and writing since I learned how!) but I did continue to improve, and eventually I was able to get out of bed (barely) and was finally released from all of the tubes and wires and allowed to come home with Margaret 15 days later.

hosptial

Now I’m recuperating at home with lots (and lots) of restrictions on activity and still in pain, but it’s good to be home.  I will be recovering for 4-6 weeks and hopefully will be somewhat back to normal by mid-December if I don’t wind up needing more surgery.

Margaret is still having some growth issues so we are back in the pediatrician’s office every day to check her.  I’m trying to balance nursing with pumped bottles because she has to use a lot of calories to nurse versus the easier bottle feeding, but I don’t want her to lose the ability to nurse entirely.  We could use prayers for this.

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November is a month for giving thanks–all months are, of course, but this one in particular for me, especially this year.  I’m overwhelmed with gratitude that God spared my life, gave wisdom to my doctors at the right times, and brought me home to my family.  It so easily could have gone another direction at so many points.

I can see in hindsight how God was preparing me for this in advance.  Throughout my married life I have never understood the feeling of “done” that many of my friends described about having children, but from the start of this pregnancy I had a deep sense that this was our last baby. God completely changed my mind on that topic, including some deep-seated feelings about femininity and age and leaving options open.  So the thought that my womb is not just closed but gone entirely is a strange one, but not depressing or sad to me.  I’m so grateful for my five healthy children (it’s not that I wanted more per se but the thought of not having more full stop would have been hard for me to handle a year ago) and don’t necessarily have to act like a middle-aged woman just because my child-bearing phase of life is over now.

kids

Life always changes when you add a new member to the family.  I had prepared in advance to take a long break from school for maternity leave.  We may have some half days and lots of reading aloud and some light school work over this holiday term, just for a little structure.  I hope to make time to have one-on-one reading and discussion with each of the big kids while I’m recuperating and can’t do much–I’m hoping that will be fruitful for learning but also for our parent-child relationships.  We all need grace now to adjust.  It’s hard for Eliza (2) to understand why Mama can’t pick her up or hold her on the lap and why I’m in bed.  It’s hard for the big kids to have their routines disrupted and see me so not myself and not quite understand what happened.  It’s hard for me to see things I normally handle and not be able to do them.  But thankfully, amazingly, I am here.  A near-death emergency does have a way of putting a new perspective on things.

And so we have a little growing up to do.  This year I have been focused on cutting back and zeroing in, to giving my best to my core callings and letting the rest go.  I need to do that now more than ever.  This has implications for my work and homeschooling and family life and other writing, as well as for A Spirited Mind.

You may have noticed I’ve cut back on posting recently.  I want the articles I write to be the most thoughtful ones, not just a post for every book.  The time I take to write here is time I take away from my work writing and school and real life, so I want it to count.  I’ll probably post just once a week or so–some on books that really get me thinking, some on parenting or homeschooling in a reading-focused way that hopefully helps whether you homeschool or not, and some round-up posts to catch the other books I’m reading, suggest titles for read-alouds and kids independent reading, bookmarked life posts, and the like.  I’ll hopefully keep up the newsletter, as I think that’s a good spot for links and other odds and ends of the literary life.  And, as always, I welcome comments, questions, or discussion, which you can leave on posts or email me directly.

As I reflect on the past ten years and the past month in particular, I’m struck by what a great privilege it is to have such a crazy, wonderful, exciting, challenging life.  Thank you for reading along with me here!